Looking at the still-stiff, sixteen year old, canvas duffel bag with his daughter, he couldn’t prevent the thought, “Man, I can’t believe I still use this bag-”
“What’s in that pocket, daddy?” she interrupted. “Socks?” she guessed as she reached with a raptor’s velocity into the opening. Looking up at him, her excitement was betrayed by her breathlessness and she said, “A glove?!”
“Your gloves,” he answered, pulling out the second one, anxious to keep the pair united. “From when you were smaller. Just give them here.”
“But I want to wear them.”
“Fine. Whatever. Actually, no. Don’t put them on just yet. We have to go to church-”
“-But,” he continued, “I’ll put them in the go-bag and you can put them on after we change into comfy clothes for the trip. Deal?”
Finding themselves changing in the old church’s random nursing station, the father couldn’t have had more on his mind. Remnants of the adrenaline his body released earlier that morning whilst playing the piano for the congregation lingered, and also capturing his attention was the anxiety of starting a road-trip from an unknown location in the city.
“My hands are cold, Daddy.”
“Okay, H-. That’s fine,” he said. “We’ll be in the car in a minute.”
Upon her entry into the back seat, she found the gloves and put them on.
“Clevah gairl,” he mumbled to himself.
“So you’re hands were cold, eh?” he asked, laughing. “You sure do have a one track mind. ‘I see gloves. I want to wear gloves. Dad controls gloves. Gloves make hands warm. I need cold hands. Must share hand temperature with Dad.’ Ha.”
“Daddy, I’m hungry. When are we stopping for lunch?”
“We’re headed to Limon for lunch. I just want to knock out a bit of the trip before we stop. Sound fair?”
“H-, where are you going? The restroom is over here.”
“Huh-uh,” she said, pointing to the family restroom sign.
“Ah. Okay. Good call. Let’s go then. We need to hurry and get back on the road.”
She stood and watched as he ran his hands under the faucet.
“You gonna wash your hands or what?”
He watched an incredulous look come over her face as she began to fiddle with her hands.
“You want me to take off my gloves?”
Mirroring the mood with his own bewildered look, he answered, “You still have your gloves on? Fine. Okay. Nope. I guess there’s no need to wash your hands if you went potty with your gloves on. Come on. Let’s go.”
“I’m going to put on my socks just like you do, daddy,” H- volunteered one morning as she got dressed.
The little girl walked barefoot from her room to the kitchen, transitioning from carpet to faux-hardwood floors along the way. Next, she lifted her little foot up onto the kitchen chair. Her father watched with great intent as this struggle ended with no small amount of relief on her part. Nearly doing the standing splits, she now stood with one leg on the chair, one on the ground. Her body language displayed the smallest hint of her enjoying having his full attention. He saw her mimic his routine exactly. She bent forward, wiped off the bottom of her bare foot, and pulled the tiny sock on.
“Point taken,” the man thought to himself, smiling. “You’ve definitely got the gift, H-.”
“Where are you going, daddy?” she asked.
“To get the vacuum.”
He whistled loudly as they approached the grocery store.
“What song are you whistling, Daddy?” H- begged.
“My Favorite Things,” he answered.
“Oh,” she said, not familiar with the tune.
“All aboard!” he called, signaling it was time for her to hop on the front of the cart if she was going to.
He watched and heard her begin an open mouth hum as she attempted to demonstrate her own Christmas spirit notwithstanding a deficit in whistling ability. Chuckling, he pushed the cart into the store and began searching for beautiful women whom he could make smile with the assistance of his little helper.
“I said humming to town,” H- said, laughing innocently as congestion in the baking aisle halted their progress.
“What’s that?” he asked.
H- then proceeded to hum the chorus of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. Afterward she again giggled and said, “I said humming!”
Squinting and with a cocked head, he looked at her in disbelief and thought, “Surely she knows when she hums no one hears the words?”
“Oh yeah?” he quickly said before the moment passed.
Progressing now to the cereal aisle, another repeat of the chorus was followed by, “That time I said coming.” More humming and another laughing explanation. “I said humming again!”
“Man, I can’t believe they don’t have any corn flakes.”
“Santa is probably humming to the reindeer as they pull his sleigh,” she said thoughtfully, unconcerned with the moment’s dilemma.
“What?” he asked, rising from the crouched position where he had just verified the awful truth that he’d have to get creative to make the cookies.
“I said,” she labored, “Santa is probably humming to the reindeer.”
“A wordsmith is born,” he thought smiling, unable to hide his pride.
“And when your daddy was young H-, he used to laugh so much at dinner that we had to send him to his room,” the grandma said as she leaned into the table signaling that this was privileged information.
“Uh-huh,” answered H-, happy to be counted as trustworthy.
“That’s right. We would have plans after dinner and need him to hurry, but he just wouldn’t stop laughing. So we sent him to his room.”
The little girl giggled and shyly glanced up at her dad seated to her right. She seemed poised to interject her thoughts.
Her grandma saw this too and in hopes of hearing some unpredictable commentary explained further, “It happened over and over again. He would just laugh and laugh, so we sent him to his room again and again.”
“Like a hundred fifteen nineteen times!?” H- guessed excitedly, her voice’s pitch rising to a nearly inaudible level.
The laughter that filled the room might have been mistaken for making fun of the guess if it wasn’t for the accompanying knowing nods between all adults and the purity in H-‘s eyes as she absorbed the limelight. Yes, she was her father’s daughter.
The recent Lego castle and its associated left-over blocks were lying messily on the bottom shelf of the end table. They walked right past it as they brought in the remaining camping gear. It was 2:30pm.
“I’m sorry we had to come back early H-,” he said.
“It’s okay,” said H-. “You know, if we go hiking,” her eyes widened, “and there’s a thunderstorm,” another pause, “we might die.”
Chuckling at her summation of his endeavor to rationalize the trip’s early termination, he took a moment to clarify the lesson. “It’s not likely we’d die, I just wanted you to know that our safety, yours and mine, is what cancelled the trip. I was having a lot of fun with you, even in the rain.”
“Me too. I love camping.”
“In any case, I have to shower,” he started, “so can you play out here for a minute?”
“Sure,” she answered.
Then he remembered that he told the realtor they’d be gone for a few days, so there was no need to confirm that the house was open for showings. Attempting to prepare H- for any doors opening unexpectedly, he said, “Oh, and remember that people may be coming to the house. If anyone opens the door while I’m still in the shower, just tell them that your daddy’s showering, and he’ll be out in a moment.”
“Okay daddy!” she yelled as he turned on the water. “I’m just looking at the instructions for the castle!”
Like every time before, he left the door to the bathroom cracked just enough to be able to hear if she needed help.
Midway through the shower his heart leapt as he heard her voice. “What’s that H-?” he loudly inquired.
The shower’s noise again obscured her response.
“You’re going to have to talk louder H-!”
She couldn’t have more closely matched her previous volume if she tried.
“Look H-! I can’t hear you. Come to the door if its important,” he said, mad more at himself than her. Finally he cut the water and reaching for a towel, asked again, “What were you saying?”
“I said,” she labored, taking a breath, “TWO horses and ONE dragon!?”
“Lego’s crack marketing team strikes again,” he thought to himself, relieved. “Yes H-, there is another castle for sale that has two horses and a dragon, instead of the one you have, which has just one horse and no dragons,” Pete said dejectedly. “Maybe someday, if you’re lucky.”
“So, George, remind me again what you were telling me last night?” Pete asked upon returning to the kitchen after setting H- up with cereal. “Other things I was doing at the time caused me to miss the significance of the meeting being one-on-one, but I think I get it now. You said you had a one-on-one meeting with your boss and that he asked for your opinion on how your performance should be measured.”
“That’s right. I asked him if he wanted to know how I thought I should be measured, or if he wanted to know how I thought I was being measured.”
“Which was it?”
“He said he wanted to know how I thought I should be measured.”
“And you said that you think your performance should be measured on the quality of your work, but he said that he was going to measure you on the duration of your work?”
“Jesus,” Pete responded in disbelief, “that’s totally inverse. The goal should always be to get more done in less time–not just to work longer.”
“So what happened next?”
“He told me that to achieve an excellent on my review next time that I will need to work nights and weekends.”
“And what did you say?”
“I told him that I wouldn’t be aiming for an excellent then.”
George opened the door to leave for work and paused, saying, “You don’t know how close I was to asking him, ‘Do you want to be a soul crusher?'”
As always, the crack of the wooden blinds against the door signaled George was off to work. Pete then turned to H- who was all the while quietly finishing her cereal.
“Are you a soul crusher H-?” he asked her, using extended, slightly squinted eye-contact to signal playfulness. “I know I don’t want to be a soul crusher. I want to be a soul creator, a soul grower,” he reported, increasing the melodrama with the repetition in an effort to summon a response from the speechless little girl.
With her familiar, lovable earnestness and attentiveness H- responded, “I’m still growing.”
“Heyyyy!” said H-, her head rotating up in order to look him in the eyes. Slowly peering into his soul, she couldn’t stop her bottom lip from quivering. Her face flushed red, and she loosed a single, crippling tear. “Why did you do that? Why did you take off my band-aid?”
“H-, come on now. You saw that it was already starting to come off on its own. How long had it been on for anyhow? Two days? You didn’t even have a bleeding oww-ee,” he said, meeting her eye-contact and rubbing her shoulder. “Plus, I keep telling you that band-aids aren’t stickers-”
“Look! It’s red. Can I have a band-aid to put on it?” she asked, her tone revealing that she believed she had presented sound reasoning.
“No, H-, you cannot have a band-aid to cover the mark left by leaving the last band-aid on for too long,” he winced. “Can we stop talking about band-aids for the rest of the night at least? Please?” he asked, appealing to her well-developed sense of give-and-take.
“Okay. But tomorrow morning I want another adult band-aid,” she asserted, her persistence approaching a level generally reserved for the possessed children in career-making horror classics.
“We’ll see. For now, let’s get back to bed so we can continue reading about King Aaathuh,” he said.
“Daa-ddy! Daa-ddy!” sounded his own personal alarm clock exactly twenty minutes early.
Climbing out of his bed, he opened her door and let her know that it wasn’t quite time to get up yet.
“Can I play quietly for a little bit?” she offered.
“Sure. I just need twenty more minutes,” he said.
Only a minute passing until guilt overcame him, he reappeared in the living room, much to her surprise.
“I’m going to rest a little out here while you play,” he informed her.
“Rest a little?”
“Yeah, rest a little. Here on the couch. It’s not time to get up yet, but when my phone goes off, I will. You can play though.”
No sooner than he had closed his eyes, he heard her walking towards the bathroom. Eyes still closed, he asked, “H-? Where are you going?”
The entire essence of her being still moving forward, her corporeal body came to a halt. He opened his eyes just in time to see an empty face betray that all available energy was being redirected into deciding how best to play this one out. No less sudden than when light vanquishes darkness, her widening eyes and resultant raised eyebrows signaled that she had made her decision. Turning towards him, she slowly nodded her head in the vertical plane, raised her index finger, and casually informed him, “I’m just going to get one band-aid.”
Happy that she chose waffles over doughnuts, he found himself preparing the batter when she called to him from the couch.
“Daddy, come lay with me. Don’t you want a little rest before breakfast?”
“H-, you know I’m cooking. If you wanted to lay, you should’ve said something earlier.”
“Yep. It’s almost done though,” he responded.
“Why you keep saying almost?” she asked.
“Do you know what “almost” means, H-?” he asked, genuinely curious about her response.
“Not done yet?” she answered, her voice betraying a modest level of hope.
“Sure. It means not done yet. But so would lots of words. How close does “almost” mean?”
“Fifteen?” she guessed.
His smile grew as her answer reverberated in his head.
Proudly, then, he cooed to himself, “She’s learning.”
“How’s your mac’n’cheese H-?”
“It’s far away,” she responded matter of factly.
“Huh? How’s your mac’n’cheese?”
“It’s far away. It’s in Townsville,” she said, finally elaborating.
“Wait what?” he asked, shaking his head. More curious than ever to discover where this would lead he again asked, “How’s your mac’n’cheese?”
“I told you daddy. It’s far away. It’s in Townsville. On May 10th. That’s my birthday,” she said, nodding her head while staring at the dish. Searching eyes exposed her thoughts more than words ever could. “How can I be more clear? I think I’m being clear,” she thought.
“Your mac’n’cheese is far away, in Townsville, which is on May 10th?” he asked, attempting for clarification.
“Yep,” she answered, delighted by his demonstration of understanding.
“Do we have cauliflower?” she asked after he mentioned broccoli.
“Nope, just broccoli,” he answered.
“Why don’t we have cauliflower?” she persisted.
“Because I didn’t buy any,” he said, not giving in.
After finishing her broccoli, she watched as he slid the grilled chicken on to her plate. Together now, they began to eat.
“Oh,” he interrupted, “did you want barbecue sauce?”
“Yes,” she said, “the new sauce.”
“I know, I know. You didn’t like the hot stuff.”
“Nevermind. Here’s your sauce. And here’s my sauce.”
To the sound of silverware squishing into chicken, they returned to the task at hand. Suddenly, she let out a shriek.
“What?” he asked, fearful that even the new sauce was too hot.
Spitting out the chicken, she replied, “I don’t like the roasted ones. That one’s roasted.”
“See daddy? Roasted,” she said, pointing at the grill marks on the chicken.
“Oh. You don’t like the burnt part. Excuse me, the roasted part. Okay, you don’t have to eat it,” he allowed. “High class H-, you’re high class,” he thought, pride swelling.